Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hardwired for empathy

Excerpted from "Study finds that our brains are hardwired for empathy, friendship," Medical News Today. August 26, 2013 -- Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy - the ability to put ourselves in others' shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us—friends, spouses, lovers—with our very selves.

"With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves," said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves. The study appears in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Researchers found that regions of the brain responsible for threat response displayed little activity in the cases of shock to a stranger. However, when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self. "The finding shows the brain's remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it's very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat," Coan said.

This likely is the source of empathy, and part of the evolutionary process, Coan reasons. "A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources," he said. "Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal. It's a part of our survivability."


Dr. Karl BenzioCMDA Member and Executive Director of Lighthouse Network Karl Benzio, MD -- "Some Christians have a hard time accepting science, associating science with Darwin, thus getting flustered thinking most science contradicts the Bible. Others really struggle accepting psychological sciences, associating it with Freud or thinking that psychotherapy is man worshipping man, trying to solve problems without God, or looking for an excuse for or to normalize aberrant behavior.

“But science is just the study of: 1) What God made; 2) Understanding how He designed it to function; and 3) Learning how to maximally steward it for His glory and our abundant living. Obviously, I am partial, but God’s two most incredible creations are the human mind and free will (our psychological process which produces decisions).

“As our Creator, like any good developer of a product, God gave us an awesome instruction manual, called The Holy BIBLE (Best Instruction Book for Living Everyday). Throughout the Bible, God clearly teaches us His design for us to be in relationships from the beginning in the Garden of Eden through our ultimate union with Him in the life after this in Heaven. Mark 12:30, the Greatest Commandment, instructs us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but then to love others and ourselves (in healthy and Godly ways).

“This study reveals science about the circuitry God created for us to accomplish His command to engage in healthy and caring relationships. The missing piece science has a hard time quantifying, though, is the spiritual sphere, that spiritual part of man that is unique for each of us. Our spirit allows a special connection to God and a special connection to others. Unfortunately, Satan is always attacking our mind, but as we manage life the way the Bible instructs, circuitry for empathy, forgiveness and agape love grow as we carry out the Greatest Commandment and develop the mind of Christ.

“So engage the awesome science of our mind as it helps us understand how God designed us, but more importantly, how to steward our mind to glorify Him and live life abundantly. How you manage every minute is your decision, so choose well.”

“Cleaning Up” Marital Communication by William Curtrer, MD, and Sandra Glahn, ThM
Summer 2012 edition of Today’s Christian Doctor

1 comment:

  1. I myself am a psychiatrist. Empathy is so important to be a therapist as well as being a Christian. The basis of empathy is allowing yourself to listen. We have a God who listens and His Son also listened. It is by listening we can connect with another person and appreciate their pain etc. There is an art to listening and in todays age of twitters, texting, Facebook we have forgotten how to TALK to someone as well as to listen. Most people are afraid to let themselves get close enough to someone to empathize. We listen trying to give advise, to judge, to fix, to help etc. The Lord has wired us to become close in relationship. I think if we listened more, psychiatrist will be less (not disappear) needed.